Epiphany is the season of surprises as Jesus is revealed in many and various ways to be the Lord’s Anointed, His Chosen, The Man to heal Adam’s fall. But last week, we hit a note of tragedy, that debacle in hometown Nazareth. And now today, we have all these sick folks, including a strange and disconcerting voice from the darkness—“What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us?”
So as this surprising season of light draws near its end, the darkness asserts itself. Not everyone was happily surprised with Jesus. Not the folks in Nazareth, not this voice from the darkness. “I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”
Now, I suppose, a preacher has to raise the question, “Where does this voice come from?” Who is this strange man? Our text calls him a man with “an unclean spirit.” So what’s that supposed to mean? Isn’t it just a relic from an a superstitious age, something that just doesn’t happen in our modern world?
Ah…that’s a puzzling question which could occupy a good bit of time…but it would take us down a dead end path. The nature of this subject is such that our talking about it does little good. There’s an old proverb that says the demons can’t see you until you look at them; and when you do, they’ve got you. In other words, the more we talk about the demonic, the more fascinated we become with it, the more we see the demonic all around us.
Every now and then we read in the paper about some religious person who concludes that his or her child is demon-possessed, and they undertake to beat the demon out of the child, or some other reprehensibly brutal attempt at an exorcism. The child suffers horribly; sometimes dies. Voile, the demons win after all.
Or we might convince ourselves that there is no such thing as demons. After all, hasn’t science sufficiently disproved such things? But can a discipline which so self-consciously confines itself only to the material world really say anything authoritative about an immaterial world? Besides, a cursory look at our world today quickly convinces us that something evil this way comes.
And that’s the surprising and disturbing thing about this voice from the darkness. It’s not that the voice is so odd. It’s that the possessed man sounds so modern, so reasonable! “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”
When we really begin to see who Jesus is, when it dawns on us what He’s up to, doesn’t it make us defensive as well? Don’t we know…or at least get a feeling…that the Gospel is an attack on our way of doing things? “Have You come to destroy us, Jesus?”
The unclean spirit makes a business out of sin, capitalizes on it, adds something to grace. It’s that voice which says, “How can you possibly run the world with forgiveness? 70 times 7? Are you kidding? And what would happen to the economy if we really did go around giving away all that we have to the poor? Oh, Jesus is a mad man; gotta stop Him!”
The poet Francis Thompson called Jesus “The Hound of Heaven.” “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; / I fled Him, down the arches of the years; / I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways / Of my own mind…for I was sore adread (Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside)…”
Can it be—wherever and however this voice comes out of darkness—that the unclean man really does speak for us all? Can it be that the darkness out of which he speaks—wherever and whatever it is—is the same darkness dwelling deep in this en-lightened world of ours…dwelling deep in each one of us? “What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” “This is our world!”
So how shall such darkness be dispelled? In our text the voice from the darkness is only answered by the voice from the light. This man who has been touched by such deep darkness as to see in Jesus only a destroyer, is then touched by the Light of Light who gives no explanation, nor argues even for a moment. “Be silent,” Jesus commands. “Come out of him.”
And the unclean spirit departs, kicking and screaming…as do the other demons later in the day, as well as the fever from Peter’s mother-in-law and all the various sicknesses and diseases presented to Jesus. “Be silent; come out of them.” Jesus did in fact destroy them…with the healing touch of His voice and His hand.
Oh, but this was only a preliminary skirmish to the great battle. It would go on until finally that voice from the darkness nailed Jesus to the cross. Epiphany shows us that Jesus came to preach forgiveness, the absolutely free grace of God. But Lent will show how we couldn’t let Him do that. “Have You come to destroy us?”
So at the last it comes down to the final great battle between us and Him. When Jesus is about to be crucified, He says, “Now is the prince of this world to be cast out.” And when we had done our worst, God did His best. He raised Jesus from the dead, death is swallowed up in life; sickness swallowed up in health.
“What have You to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us?” The plain, unvarnished truth is that, yes, He has. The unclean spirit knew it. The darkness knows it can’t live with the Light. The light cannot be the friend of darkness without first being its enemy. The road to life can only lead through death.
But in Jesus, the road does, in fact, lead to life. “Whoever would save his life shall lose it; whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” We shall find it. To be baptized, as St. Paul writes, is to be baptized into the death of Christ so as to be raised with Christ. That’s why Holy Baptism is itself an exorcism.
We shall be raised…we are already raised, healed. “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” St. Paul says. Martin Luther also said it: “When God makes alive, He does so by killing; when He justifies, He does so by pronouncing guilty; when He carries up to heaven, He does so by bringing down to hell.” Only the crucified is resurrected.
So the great battle has been fought, and now the mopping up goes on. That voice from the darkness lingers in our ears. There is still in us, us sinner/saints, that pocket of resistance that wants Jesus to go away, or at least back off. There is a bit of the darkness that wants to know what I must do to make myself whole.
Even for us Christians, when we see that Jesus is the Holy One of God, still we fear that He’s going to ask too much of us. What will happen to us if we fall completely into His hands? He’ll destroy what we have done! “I know who You are, Jesus of Nazareth!”
The darkness lingers in this world. Now we see in a mirror darkly. But the perfection has come! And there remains nothing except for Jesus to touch us again and again. “Be silent!” He says to that darkness yet in us. “Come out!” Be still and listen to this voice who touches your ears today and your heart. It’s all over. The light shines in the darkness—our own darkness—and the darkness has not, cannot, and will not overcome Him. You are born anew. Your sins are forgiven…all of them. You are healed by His touch and your life is now hidden with Christ in God!